Two weeks into our California road trip, we hit Santa Barbara, and a definite change of pace.
Santa Barbara lies a couple of hours North of LA, and is a lot quirkier and more laid back. The city was the birthplace of the Spanish architecture revival in this part of America, and it shows. There are pretty tiled walls, lots of greenery, with Spanish inspired stores and courtyards.
Our base was Carpinteria, a cute seaside town just outside Santa Monica. Our home for the week was an ancient RV we booked at the last-minute on Air BnB.
I’m a big believer that a road trip should give you the opportunity to stay in different sorts of places. On our last trip to California, Flea adored the wooden cabin we booked in Big Sur. This was almost as much fun. Our home for the week was this vintage RV, parked in the driveway of a local chef’s house. It was small, and basic, but definitely had everything we needed.
Flea thought the sleeping platform was adorable, and I was grateful it had a memory foam mattress. At $60 a night, who’s complaining?
Our RV was just a 5-minute walk from the beach at Santa Claus. For my money, this is one of my favourite beaches in Santa Barbara. It’s much quieter than the main city beaches, with huge expanses of white sand and waves that are perfect for surfing and body boarding.
Santa Claus beach is lined with a small row of rental stores. You can get everything from paddle boards to take-out pizza, and there are restrooms. There’s free parking all along Santa Claus Lane, and you’ll see several points where you can walk across the train tracks and climb down to the beach. This isn’t as dodgy as it sounds, promise.
For lunch, you must visit the Padaro Beach Grill at Santa Claus beach. This lush cafe makes amazing fish tacos, and you can eat outside on the lawned gardens, that overlook the beach. There are trees for shade, a giant sand pit for kids to play in, and it’s the perfect place to cool off on a hot day. As you leave, we recommend the milkshakes here, which are spectacular. The pizza place along the street is also worth a visit for dinner.
During the evenings, we mostly headed into Santa Barbara – for starters, we needed the fast, free WiFi in Starbucks! But there are countless great restaurants to check out. If you fancy a movie, do skip the AMC and head for
In Santa Barbara itself, there are countless places to explore. There’s a clock tower in the middle of downtown that you can climb for awesome views over the city. Wander down State Street and check out the many courtyards, lined with surf and skate shops, and restaurants.
On a hot evening, we recommend checking out the Arlington Theater on State St, in the middle of town. Rather than your standard multiplex, this 1930s cinema is built to give the impression you’re walking into an art deco Spanish theatre, complete with a covered courtyard and fountain, and an interior that’s decorated with arches and painted beams.
Santa Barbara’s main hub for water activities is Stearn’s Wharf. If you’re feeling brave, you can park directly on the wharf pointing towards the sea (I’ve never checked the parking brake so many times before getting out of the car). There are some shops and restaurants, and towards the shore you’ll find rentals for surf boards, jet skis, kayaks and so on.
The best time to kayak here is certainly sunset, and although you don’t get the same sort of sunset you’ll see in Santa Monica, it’s really pretty and it’s nice to get out on the water and see the wildlife – much of the water here is protected, and you can spot sealions, otters and plenty of wild birds. We booked a sunset kayak tour through Viator for around $40 each.
We also took the opportunity to get a little more lively with a jet ski rental from Sea Landing. For $150 you can rent a jet ski and lifejackets for an hour. It’s a great activity with older kids, so long as they sit on the front of the jet ski, they’re allowed to ride, and take a turn steering.
I’m not going to lie. It can get a little bit scary when you get really fast, but Flea absolutely loved it – even when we had to call the hire desk to get them to rescue us when we snarled up our engine with seaweed.
There are certainly plenty of architectural and grown-up reasons to visit Santa Barbara, but there are also loads of things to do here with kids. Hope you enjoyed our recommendations!